Tibetans: Hope in the face of death for the elderly

‘You came to die?!’

The old man nods happily. He has lived a full life, a good life, and now in his old age believes that he can earn extra merit for the next life by tottering everyday around the huge block of prayer wheels, spinning them as he walks, muttering his mantra, and tis all before his midday rest. It is as good as any aged care facility, with the nuns and monks on hand ready to help the large community of lucky elderly who live here. the doctor is close by and the skye burial experts are ready when the time comes.

Sky burial is, in the eyes of many, simply a way of disposing of what is considered an empty vessel; a body that had once contained the spirit of a loved one but which has served its purpose and is now ready for disposal. What better thing to do with it than provide for other lives, even the lives of predatory animals? Others think that the spirit may still be struggling to extricate itself from its casing but this process helps free it from the body and release it into the next world. What may be considered disgusting to the outsider is not necessarily so to the Tibetan. The body is handled by professional sky burial masters who, incidentally, are usually outcasts from their own society. They do it in such a way that predators, usually vultures, consume it all. To have any remains left over is interpreted as a terrible omen for the spirit of the recently departed one, and steps are taken to ensure that this scenario never eventuates. The Chinese government outlawed sky burins during the 1960’s and 1970’s, but it is again permitted in certain locations.

Pray for God to have mercy on the elderly who are working towards their death. Pray for witness to them through dreams and visions, and for those who are actively seeking ways to reach out to them.

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